Salesforce's Chicago office building.​
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Does your AI ethics team have real power?

Protocol Enterprise

Hello and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: How Salesforce’s AI ethics team manages internal and third-party AI dilemmas, Intel makes a big investment in its foundry business and the latest funding deals in enterprise tech.

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Data silos are a major challenge for 90% of IT leaders, according to MuleSoft’s latest report. And that number hasn’t changed since MuleSoft conducted the survey a year ago. Data may be everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it's integrated.

How Salesforce’s ethics team impacts AI development

When Salesforce’s engineers were incorporating tools that use natural-language processing and machine learning to analyze people’s sentiments toward products or brands in social media or reviews, they discovered a problem. The system automatically labeled content featuring words such as gay, Black or Muslim as negative. It even happened if the statements around them were positive, as in, “I’m gay and proud.”

Kathy Baxter and her Ethics by Design team inside Salesforce stepped in to assess the algorithmic tool, but despite the potential for discrimination, some product management decision-makers at the company still wanted to roll out the product in beta anyway to get customer feedback.

  • In the end, the ethics group won. “We said no — we need to wait on this,” said Baxter, Salesforce’s ethical AI principal architect. “And so the team held back.”
  • It was a rare example of actual power for tech ethics watchdogs over product decisions that could affect countless people.
  • In the end, Baxter’s ethical design group worked with engineers to conduct bias mitigation on the product’s machine-learning models. They tested and watched how those changes took effect before finally launching the tool as part of its Einstein software in 2017, which is now a component of the company’s Tableau CRM software.

Some of the companies that are subject to the most intense scrutiny of their AI practices say they have embedded ethics into product development.

  • Facebook parent Meta has an interdisciplinary responsible AI group that works with its product teams to address fairness in its AI-enabled products.
  • Microsoft’s responsible AI office seeds governance processes across the company, while another group there is dedicated to incorporating the company’s responsible AI rules into engineering work.
  • Google famously shuttered its AI ethics committee following criticism over its choices for committee members. The company also angered the AI ethics community after firing one of the industry's most respected AI ethics researchers. But today it still has a Responsible AI and Human-Centered Technology group that works with product and engineering teams.

But for many companies, putting AI principles into practice is not as common, and many are looking to government to create regulations to guide that process.

  • Some ethics roles sit inside a legal compliance team or are relegated to a monthly governance or privacy check-in.
  • However, Baxter’s team has a surprising amount of day-to-day interaction and input into decisions made throughout the organization.
  • When Salesforce was developing templates in its Einstein Discovery software for predictive analytics, also now part of Tableau CRM, her team convinced engineers to remove data fields showing zip codes. That neighborhood-level data can be a proxy for race, and therefore risked enabling racial bias in how the system made predictions.
  • “Although from a legal perspective, it probably would have been okay, from an ethical perspective, we said no. And so the team had to remove those fields,” she said.

Still, Salesforce isn’t just what is built by Salesforce. Like many cloud platforms, Salesforce is a dense forest of software applications and tools.

  • The company’s AppExchange hosts applications built by other companies that do anything from giving automated financial planning advice to managing patients with addictions.
  • Salesforce gently nudges tech partners toward more ethical practices. For instance, Baxter authored a paper published last year that presented steps for organizations to take to address ethical questions during the AI development and implementation phases.
  • The company also offers a course for Responsible Creation of Artificial Intelligence for Salesforce users. But that educational module includes just four short classes lasting 45 minutes in total.

Education is the company’s primary tool for fostering more ethical practices among partners in its sprawling app marketplace. She also said in 2022 the company’s account reps are expected to offer customers additional AI ethics education and services.

For now, “it's a nice-to-have, it's a pretty rare thing” to have someone on staff dedicated to ethics in development of products or services, Baxter said. “But in a few years, it will be madness not to have at least one of these in your company.”

— Kate Kaye (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM DATAIKU

Dataiku is the only AI platform that connects data and doers, enabling anyone to transform data into real business results — from the mundane to the moonshot. Because AI can do so much, but there's no soul in the machine, only in front of it. Without you, it's just data.

Learn more

Intel’s foundry plans involve embracing RISC

As part of Intel’s bid to regain its one-time leadership position in chip manufacturing, the company announced a series of steps on Monday aimed to support its contract chip business, Intel Foundry Services. Intel said that it had launched an “ecosystem alliance” called Accelerator designed to help companies bring new chips to market, and a $1 billion fund to support companies building tech to support the foundry ecosystem.

Intel said the fund would focus on helping companies interested in tech around modular products, and support an open chiplet platform — adding several different types of chips to a single package, compared with cramming a bunch of designs onto one chip.

“Foundry customers are rapidly embracing a modular design approach to differentiate their products and accelerate time to market,” CEO Pat Gelsinger said in a statement.

To support the company’s efforts, Intel said it would support designs that use multiple instruction set architectures, or ISAs, including x86, Arm and RISC-V. The company said that a key part of its contract chip strategy is a broad range of tech offerings, including RISC-V. Intel said it had joined RISC-V International, the consortium that oversees the RISC-V open-source architecture.

— Max A. Cherney (email | twitter)

Upcoming at Protocol

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Financial corner

Flexport raised $935 million from Shopify and other investors at a valuation of $8 billion for its global logistics platform.

Chargebee was valued at $3.5 billion after raising $250 million from Tiger Global and Sequoia Global for its subscription management software.

Productboard was valued at $1.7 billion after raising $125 million for its product management software.

Loadsmart raised $200 million to automate logistics, valuing the company at $1.3 billion.

TTTech Auto raised $285 million at a $1 billion valuation for its automated driving software.

Butterfly was valued at $1 billion after raising $125 million to provide employers with a digital benefits platform.

Around the enterprise

Nvidia’s $40 billion proposed acquisition of Arm is all but officially dead, according to the Financial Times.

Google Cloud introduced a new security service that can scan VMs for crypto-mining malware without accessing user data or adding new software.

Microsoft will block the execution of macros in Office documents by default, a security-minded step customers have been asking it to do for years.

Security researchers discovered a new vulnerability in Argo CD, an open-source continuous delivery software tool often used in conjunction with Kubernetes.

A MESSAGE FROM DATAIKU

Dataiku is the only AI platform that connects data and doers, enabling anyone to transform data into real business results — from the mundane to the moonshot. Because AI can do so much, but there's no soul in the machine, only in front of it. Without you, it's just data.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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